Friday, May 27, 2016

Memorial Day Thoughts: More of This, Please!

I ran across a post that made me think. A guy named Robert Miller shared it on his Facebook page. I don't really know Rob, but we're "friends." Typical, right? Ugh, I won't go down that path. I have other points to harp on today.

I did meet him at a Marty Gallagher seminar at the University of Pennsylvania a couple years ago, and he's the model for Marty's CrossCore Hardcore book, so we're not complete strangers. I used to be a hot model, too, back when The Purposeful Primitive came out. Then I was replaced by young and beautiful Rob.  I'm not bitter or anything, but I do hate him. Not really. Well, maybe.

Do I know much of anything about the guy, though? Nah. I do know a couple things. I know he was in the Navy. How do I know this? I'm fucking smart; that's how. And it says so on his page. "Aviation Warfare Systems Operator 2nd Class June 1997 to June 2002." There's also this telling cover shot of Rob looking like a broad-shouldered, trim-waisted, Navy badass:

Captain America? Good guess, but no. Rob Miller.
In addition to my awesome deductions about Rob's naval career, I also know he shares thoughtful insights from time to time. What, you ask, do I mean by "thoughtful?" Well, knuckleheads, they made me like... umm... you know... think! How so? In a nutshell (great AIC song, by the way), they were what I'd call atypical or unexpected for a meathead who served in the Navy. Right or wrong, I have certain expectations - stereotypes would be more truthful, I suppose - of dudes who train with weights and know how to operate automatic weapons.  

Those expectations are part of the reason I've often felt like I don't quite fit in with fellow lifters. Our mutual interests, and maybe even value systems, seem to end with the iron. No need really getting into all of that, though. Suffice it to say Rob has surprised me and broken the mold quite a few times.

Still, I was dubious when I saw the post he shared titled, "Joe Rogan Brilliantly Explains Why Americans Are Still Asleep." I think I even rolled my eyes. The words "Joe Rogan" and "brilliant" in the same sentence? Hmm. Maybe I'm stereotyping again, but those two certainly don't go together anything at all like Forrest Gump's peas and carrots. More like oil and water, I thought.

Admittedly, Joe is another one I don't know much about, but facts are facts, Jack, and two facts I know about Joe are that he's a stocky looking meathead and an announcer for the UFC. This shit is oozing more blood lust than Charlie Manson's followers. Never mind the podcasts I've not once bothered listening to; clearly, I already had pretty strongly formed, albeit poorly researched, opinions.

So yes, I fully anticipated Joe's litany of reasons why America is asleep to include gems like being too lenient on illegal aliens or maybe failing to assert our world dominance with a continuing strong military presence in the Middle East. Heck, maybe ole Joe would say we should hunt down terrorists and behead them on primetime TV to send the right message.

All of this seemed like the sort of unreasoning I'd expect from the face of MMA. But I clicked anyway. I had five minutes to waste confirming my intellectual superiority.

And then something interesting happened. Joe was questioning some stuff. He called out big business.  He wondered about the motives of our elected officials. He even put on his own air of superiority by pointing out the stupidity of average Americans, though I really think he was correctly speaking more about mental laziness.

And he said "fuck" a few times. Ah, sweet music to my ears. He had me at hello.

Joe Rogan, a guy I'd have handpicked as the poster child for blue collar "We'll put a boot in your ass" mentality was anything but. Listen for yourselves. The part around the two-minute mark where he's talking about getting sucked into the trap of nationalism particularly resonated with me. It really is easy to allow that to happen when you're a West Virginia boy who loves nothing more than to hang around a campfire drinking beer and talking shit with your buddies. 'Merica damn straight! We're #1, baby... ass kickers all the way!

Back to Joe. He sounded a little... dare I say it... counterculture! And how did counterculture become so uncool anyway??? Maybe a cool guy like Joe Rogan can make hippies hip again. I'm old but not old enough to have actually lived in the 1960s. Well, maybe just the tip; I was born in 1969. I may not have lived it, but I sure as hell read about it.

Those cats questioned shit, man. Side note:  it's more fun if you reread that last sentence aloud and all drawn out like a pothead might say it, in a voice something like this one:

Anyway, back in the day, bucking authority and asking those hard questions wasn't frowned upon. Well, I suppose it's always frowned upon by the establishment. But it was also celebrated and revered by a large and vocal minority. They sang songs about defiance; songs like "Ohio" that memorialized the Kent State students who were tragically shot and killed protesting President Nixon's Cambodian campaign.

Now? Now we're living in some kind of weird opposites world where it's somehow cooler to fall in line, and I don't see much of that 1960s mentality at all - not the protests or the great songs celebrating the protests. I see young people mostly allowing themselves to be led like lambs to the slaughter. Maybe they're too busy playing video games to bother questioning anything. Now I do sound old!

I see so many people saying the same dumb things that I've fallen into my own trap. I think I know what a guy who looks like Joe Rogan is going to say before he even has a chance to open his mouth. Shame on me, I reckon.

But man does it ever feel good when you get that sort of completely unexpected surprise that just shatters the world order you've come to expect. BAM! It's like fireworks going off all around, exploding your normal way of thinking and replacing it with something new and beautiful. Like when some woman who looks like she'd have the voice of ten thousand hissing cats opens her mouth and beautiful angel music floats out.

That was wrong of me. I know. Too much emphasis in our society on looks. But everyone thought it, and many said it way before me. Doesn't make it right, though, and at least for once real talent didn't get ignored. Ah, whatever. Just have a listen:

More of this, please!

That's right. I want more of these unexpected surprises to inspire me to keep on being a disagreeable pain in the ass. They're around. I'm just not looking hard enough or appreciating them well enough when I do see them.

There's my friend, Marshall Roy, a meathead with muscles on top of muscles who doesn't look like he'd give one single fuck about feminist issues. But he does. And he's not just a quiet bystander about it, either. He calls out poor behavior. Hell, he even calls himself out sometimes for stuff that isn't even bad. Scan the dude's Facebook page. You'll be hard pressed to find a week that goes by where he doesn't stand up publicly for one of the core issues he believes in supporting. His actions match his words.

Clearly doesn't give a shit about using a proper coffee cup. Does care deeply about humanity.
There's my other friend, Derek Rodenbeck. Yep, I have a couple of them. He's another meathead. Notice a theme here?  But he's an artist and a thinking man's meathead. He stood in my kitchen the other night and told me about his tour in Iraq and work as a PR agent for the Army's war propaganda machine. Derek took that camera of his out on his own and filmed some shit. But he didn't hide his footage away. He showed it to Army brass and pointed things out he didn't think were kosher.

Sure, they quashed it, but that's irrelevant. More importantly, Derek - a dude who looks like yet another male model, only this one has been crossed with a crazy bearded homeless street fighter; a dude who you'd expect to blindly charge right into the fray waving his sword wildly above his head (and I'm sure he'd do that, too, if his Army brethren were being asked to do it) - isn't just that. He's also a dude with a little Rob Miller and a little Joe Rogan and a little Marshall Roy in him. He's a dude who asks hard questions. He's a dude who knows the sword isn't the only way to prove you're a man.

Homeless psychopath who hedged his bets by pairing two types of camo?
Indeed it would appear so.
Truth seeker? Definitely.
I'm picky. I want to be inspired the way I want to be inspired. I want credible sources who've lived in the house, or at least in the same neighborhood, whose residents they're criticizing.

I don't want more Rosie O'Donnell's. I haven't actually seen Rosie on television in years and don't even know what she stands for anymore, so don't take that literally. She's just my poster person, justified or not, for advocating positions on which one has no credibility to speak. You know, typical rich Hollywood asshole telling us to support this cause or that cause but knowing little about it other than how to open her fat wallet and throw a few bills at the problem - a ceremonial act only and one utterly devoid of any real sacrifice. But who am I to judge? At least a person like that is doing something.

Still, the point is this. If Rosie told me to turn the other cheek and be a pacifist it would have the opposite effect. Remember that scene in Braveheart where the King is pondering the possibility of an enemy confronting his timid son and immediately being emboldened to invade? Yeah, it's like that. The bitch couldn't fight her way out of a wet paper bag, and I know it just by looking at her. There I go again assuming things based solely on appearance. That's okay; I really am right this time.

Please don't beat the shit out of me!
You feel me, dog? Seeing that, I smell blood in the water and am inspired, or maybe irritated, to violence. She has no credibility on matters involving aggression, because her only real choice is pacifism. Where the hell would violence land her other than the wrong end of a gut punch?

But if a meathead says violence is a poor choice and to try kindness and inclusion instead... hmm, that's interesting. Certainly, violence is a viable option for most meatheads I know.

And if Rob Miller or Derek Rodenbeck tells me to question our government... well now... that's entirely different, too. They've served. They've lived it. They know a thing or two about that of which they speak. Both sides of the coin, if you will. That's inspiring. I think I'll sit up and listen to that.

I've talked to enough people who served in our armed forces to know that many of them are the wisest and most skeptical people you'll ever encounter. They're far more leery of our government's motives and have far more insight into the way the world really works than most who haven't served. I guess the military does that to you. You see things you don't want to see; things that change you.

This Memorial Day, I have some grandiose ambitions. I'm going to start by cleaning up my own house. I say I want more inspiration, but maybe I should try being more inspiring.

I can be a little angry at times. You don't say! That anger is good when it's a driving force behind creativity or when it makes folks uncomfortable and prods them to see things from a different perspective. I've written some of my best material when I was pissed off. Lately, though, I think my anger has been turning me into that unbecoming green man a little too often.

So, mid-year's resolution... a little less anger and a little more thoughtful discourse on the issues that are important to me. I suppose this was a decent start. Surprising coming from a meathead, huh?

I also plan to say a prayer for all those who died in service. Along with that, I'm going to keep right on questioning a government that sends them to their deaths repeatedly, with little explanation of the motives, risks, or intended outcomes, and then treats those who somehow manage to make it out poorly when they return.

I approve of this message. Never was much of a Patriot anyway.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

If the Shoe Fits, Choke on It: An Open Letter Three Years On

Three years will have passed on May 18th -- half the span of her short life -- and the heartbreak of losing Roo has not lessened. I wouldn’t want it to, so this is in some ways a self-fulfilling observation. But I’m not really buying that. Purposefully wallowing doesn’t have anything to do with my inability to heal. You just don’t heal from this no matter how positive your attitude is or isn’t.  

The loss of my daughter, in fact, is easily the defining moment of my life. Other milestones good and bad -- graduations, marriages, divorces (yes, plural, as I am perhaps a more flawed being than many), hirings, firings, passing the bar, squatting 600 pounds, the upcoming publication of my first book -- all pale in comparison.  

Don’t get me wrong, that 600 squat was damned sweet, and I’ll tip a glass in celebration of that one anytime you want. That was a fine day; a day shared with a few very good friends that should be celebrated over and over. I just don’t relate to anyone who says they had a feeling of disappointment on reaching a long sought after goal. I had none of that; only elation that persists to this day when I think about that wonderful moment in time a few short weeks before I had any inkling of the coming storm.  

That’s my high water mark, and I couldn’t care less who thinks it’s a dumb one. I was a cockstrong motherfucker that day. I was turning the corner on a mess I made for myself, or so I thought. When Mike whispered in my ear that today was the day, not tomorrow or any other day, and that I should go out and take what I had worked so long for, I believed him and I seized the moment in one of those rare instances when the stars were all aligned just right. That some may not get it makes me savor it all the more.  

Don’t fool yourselves; we all have that high point and it’s not always somewhere out there in the future. Sometimes it already happened. You can kid yourselves if you want, but I speak the truth. This doesn’t mean things that happen in the future can’t be good; they’re just not going to eclipse that one great thing.

A 655 deadlift last summer for a 25-pound PR as an old man… yep, that was pretty fucking cool and worth a drink of its own. I did it with the support of some really awesome folks, too. But it ain’t a 600 squat in a meet with three who were there for the entire training journey -- Gallagher, Wills, and McCammon -- cheering you on.  

And you ain’t going home to hug your precious daughter, tell her what a bull daddy was today, and celebrate with ice cream instead of a drink. In case we’re not clear -- and I'm really talking to myself here -- that will never, ever, EVER happen again. Let that knife sink into your belly good and deep.

As if it wasn’t in deep enough, I took a picture of her lying there in her casket in her little Warehouse Mouse t-shirt. I wanted to feel every ounce of pain; I still do. Pain like that and the sort of love we had go hand in hand.

Mary found a seamstress who sews these custom shirts and sent her a picture to see if she could duplicate this goofy mouse character Roo loved. She did a fantastic job, sewing a mouse with bright orange, fuzzy hair that stuck out from the fabric in sort of a three-dimensional rendering. Roo was so proud of that shirt; I’d catch her patting her mouse on her tummy when she wore it. I’ll share a picture of the mouse, but I’ll spare you the casket.

The few family members who knew I was considering taking a picture of Roo after she passed advised me not to -- that I wouldn’t want to remember her that way -- but I took it anyway. I knew there’d be no more pictures to take, and this last morbid shot was the best I was going to do. I don’t look at it, but I don’t regret taking it either. When you have nothing to eat, you’ll pick from the garbage can.

I recall the day she died far more vividly than the best of my days, including even the day she was born. The sound of a steadily beating heart on the monitor just doesn’t ring in your ears like the deafening sound of one flatlining. Like coaches say, you remember the losses more than the wins, I suppose. And this one was the ultimate loss.

I ran across a Rose Kennedy quote on loss. She buried four children, I believe. “It has been said that ‘Time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens, but it is never gone.”

I believe her, though I don’t even think I’ve reached the scar tissue stage yet. I’ve been told I don’t have much of that self-protecting instinct, so maybe it’ll take quite a while or not happen at all. Maybe I’ll just walk around with open wounds.

I can take it, but I do sometimes wonder about those who try to endure me. I was an angry bear to be around at times before; now my fangs are really bared. I can often feel how agitated and unpleasant I am, and I don’t even want to do anything about it other than hit the gym a few times a week to keep from boiling over.  

I figure this is reality and you can deal with it or leave. Makes no difference to me.  The one I needed to stay the most is already gone. Your departure won’t even register.

There’s no silver lining in this dark cloud. Let’s expose another cliche. Everything actually doesn’t happen for a reason. That one irks me the most of all of them. Some things just happen. Either that, or God is just a dick. Take your pick.

Want to see me at my darkest? Tell me it happened for a reason to my face. I’ve heard some good ones… so she wouldn’t suffer; so I could write something real. Thanks, but I was just fine writing about fake shit, like lifting weights, for grown men who remain stuck in adolescence. And that kid was tough as a corn cob. She’d have suffered if it meant she could come back and play some more in the yard and jump on her trampoline.

I’ll give you a reason. You’re at the emergency room having your jaw wired shut because you’re too stupid not to keep your mouth shut about that which you can’t possibly know or understand. There’s your fucking reason. Or maybe I’m there having mine wired shut because you have skills on top of your ignorance. Either way, I don’t care, and not caring about what anyone thinks of me or even about what happens frees me to speak my mind.  

Everyone enjoys watching a train wreck until they realize it's about to crash right into their living room.

You don't like that I swear a lot? It's offensive? Since when did you become such a pussy? Is this what happens to us when we get old? Fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck. How ya like that? It's on you. I always swore and you knew this, just like when you date someone and expect them to change. Sorry Charlie; ain’t happening. It ticked way up after my kid died, you say? Fucking right it did and you're a shitty fucking friend for caring about something so utterly meaningless.  

Offensive language??? Really??? This may as well be Allen Iverson lamenting the lunacy of questioning his commitment to practice. Come the fuck on. I don’t have any real proof, so maybe I really am completely koo-koo and am just imagining this, but I have this persistent gut feeling that’s the dumb ass reason a few of you look away.

I don't pick up the phone or call you back? Again, it's on you. I've always hated the phone; always been this way and you know it. I feel trapped and suffocated from the moment I pick the damned thing up. I don’t know how to end the call graciously and some of you fools talk just to hear yourselves. Nevermind how trivial these crises sound from my perspective.  

Maybe I have a goddamned disorder. It got worse? Damned right it did. Losing your kid fucks you up. If you didn't want to chit chat before, you really don't when your head is a war zone with mortar shells going off all around. Email me, bitches. I always answer email. Every. Single. Time.  

In fact, my inbox is completely empty right now because I reply, thoughtfully I might add, to every single friend, and even a few who are in relationships (haha, couldn’t resist), who has ever contacted me. I clear my head and I write, but only when I’m good and ready. It's how I communicate best.

You don't approve of some of my choices? Finally… progress and not more idiotic bullshit! You actually hit on a good one. I don't approve of them, either.  I did some truly assholish things to some great people. And I admitted it, asked for their forgiveness, and tried to move forward. I don't approve of you passing judgment when you clearly have your own imperfections. So there.

Bottom line... I'm not saying my behavior was exemplary, but I should have gotten somewhat of a pass, at least to the extent you didn’t just turn your backs. I went to hell. I'm still in hell. I needed my friends, and I needed them on my shaky terms, yet most of them abandoned me before grass grew on the mound of dirt covering her body.

Now? Now I don't care. It all sorted out and I see who's left. To this precious group... thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you. To the rest... not “Go to hell.” It ain’t that bad. But I don’t need you like I did before; that’s for sure.  

I floundered around. I still flounder. But I started writing. I made a couple breaks for myself and a couple fell in my lap when I put myself out there that more than made up for a few rejections. None of it fixes losing Ruby, and nothing ever will, but I can kind of stand on my own, at least for now, with the support of those who stuck it out with me.

I’ll write some more. I’ll keep working on this idea of a business built around what I love -- strength. We’ll see how it goes.  

I guess I’ll catch up with all you transient friends sometime when it's convenient. Maybe we’ll just continue to like each other’s shit on Facebook without even really taking time to look at it or read it. That seems like a great plan.  

Maybe you had your own shit to deal with. Hell, maybe you were just busy and not put off by something I did or didn’t do. Whatever the reason, I forgive you, though it would have been swell of you to ask. I'm just bummed you're not who I thought you were. If you read that and thought of Dennis Green, you know your football so there’s at least something redeemable in you.

Roo lives on in my mind as an absolutely perfect, innocent child, but life is far from perfect. In reality, if she’d have lived longer, she’d have let me down in some way. She probably wouldn’t have been a lifter. Ugh. Open me up while I’m awake and jiggle my liver around with a spoon, why don’t you.

Far worse, I’d have let her down. I wouldn’t have always just been an indestructible gorilla to climb on and drag around by the finger. I’d have been a guy who hurt her mom, among other things.  

But we'd have found a way to patch it up. We’d have had no choice. She was my soul, and you can’t live without your soul. I know this too well.

As seems to be my MO, I started this letter raging and now that I got it off my chest I’m starting to breathe a little more easily. I better say this now, while my mood has softened a bit, before the beast returns. I’ll never apologize for speaking my mind, but I am sorry if my words hurt or offend you.  

Yes, I’m even sorry about the swearing, but not sorry enough to stop. I really, really like to swear! It actually makes me happy and sort of giddy. If “baked potato” was a taboo word and “fuck” was just a word for a vegetable (or is it a starch?... fuck, I don’t know), I’d probably run around hollering baked potato.

I’m sorry for some words I’ve already written and sorry for some I’m going to write. Most of all, I’m sorry you didn’t get to know her, so you might understand what all this turmoil is about.

If my words get too heavy or I’m just being too big a jerk, tune me out for a while. The best part of me died three years ago. You all are stuck dealing with what’s left wandering around post personal apocalypse, or maybe making the self-preserving choice not to deal with it sometimes.  

But come back when you’re ready. Even if at times it seems as if I’m trying to alienate, I’m really reaching out and trying to connect through my writing. We want to connect with other human beings, and our ugliness shows when that’s not happening. 

Sometimes I get it right; I know because a few of you have told me as much. Despite my demons and slights, both perceived and real, you are important to me. And if you wade through enough of my venom, you might find something you can use to get through your own dark hours.